Be Bald and win big
David John and Ben Coley pick out their best special bets ahead of the Open, with Matthew Baldwin tipped for a fast start.
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Thailand's top man Thongchai Jaidee continues in sparkling form in 2014 and very much looks the pick of the prices in the Top Asian betting with an enticing blend of current form and experience in the event, writes David John.
He won the Nordea Masters as recently as the start of last month and has continued in tremendous heart with impressive efforts in Germany (T5) and France (T2) as his confidence continues to soar.
I was particular impressed with his display in France on a difficult final day. He got off to a torrid start as he dropped five shots in his first four holes but showed an unflappable nature to play the remaining 14 holes in four under the card.
- 3pts win Thongchai Jaidee to be Top Asian at 6/1 (Ladbrokes, BetVictor) - in the form of his life and favourite looks opposable
- 1pt e.w. Jimmy Walker to be the Top American at 33/1 (General 1/4 1,2,3,4) - thriving in big events and solid in Scotland
- 1pt e.w. Oliver Fisher to be Top GB & Ireland at 80/1 (Stan James 1/4 1,2,3,4) - playing well and wasn't far off at Muirfield
- 1pt e.w. Darren Clarke to be Top GB & Ireland at 100/1 (Stan James 1/4 1,2,3,4) - T4 in this market last year and some good signs last week
- 0.5pt e.w. Bradley Neil to lead after round one at 300/1 (General 1/4 1,2,3,4,5,6) - amateurs can go well on day one and Neil could be special
- 0.5pt e.w. Matthew Baldwin to lead after round one at 200/1 (Betfred 1/4 1,2,3,4,5,6) - plays out of Birkdale and often starts quickly
Things are not going to be plain sailing for anyone this week around Hoylake so that sort of resolve will be a huge asset.
Last week's T48 at Royal Aberdeen by Jaidee may not leap off the page but it was encouraging enough as he seemed to get things going but could not quite deliver over 18 holes each day.
But it was a full tournament warm-up at a links venue and, although he only has a best of T13 in the Open Championship itself, competing in seven renewals to date means he has a good idea of what will be required.
Rising star Hideki Matsuyama heads the betting in this particular market and, despite a win this year at The Memorial and a T6 at Muirfield 12 months ago, he still has a bit to prove for me at the prices with a great deal more media attention likely to be on him.
KJ Choi is 9/1 third best but his Open record is no better than Jaidee's while trying to make a case for one of the bigger-priced players from Korea or Japan in the hope it is their week will involve both guesswork and optimism - stick with the proven credentials of Jaidee.
Tiger Woods features near the head of the betting for Top American this week but anything like the display he will need to come out on top here would be remarkable even by his standards.
Only a few weeks on from his comeback following back surgery, I applaud Woods for throwing himself back into the fray but he looked miles off the pace at Congressional and the demands of an Open Championship - even at a venue where he won back in 2006 - look too much for the great man at this stage.
This is still ultra-competitive even with a below-par Tiger, and Phil Mickelson's success 12 months ago will have really spurred on his compatriots to believe an Open victory is truly within their reach.
Anyone from 20 could prevail but I liked the way Jimmy Walker went about things on the links in Scotland and he would be my each-way suggestion at 33/1.
He showed a deft short game and a decent appreciation of the greens while the work he has been doing with Butch Harmon has given him so much more belief - hence the three wins since the back end of 2013.
Two of those victories came by the sea - in Hawaii and at Pebble Beach - so a blustery few days on the Wirral Peninsula should not inconvenience the current FedEx Cup points leader. Don't underestimate Harmon's influence and know-how either with his proven ability to get a man across the line in this tournament.
Walker has top-10s already at the Masters and the US Open this year and looks well prepared to produce another prominent showing in major company.
Oliver Fisher and Darren Clarke are the two who could shake up the market leaders in the Top GB & Ireland betting, writes Ben Coley.
Fisher caught the eye when defying poor starts to finish 26th in Ireland and 12th in Germany, before heading to Woburn to secure his place in this event through final qualifying.
From there the 25-year-old jetted off to France where he again played superbly, ranking second in the all-around on his way to ninth, and he's therefore in much better form than he was prior to finishing 32nd in this event last year.
There was a time when Fisher was considered the brightest prospect in British golf and there was good reason for that. He's a former winner of the St Andrews Trophy who was the youngest player in history to make a Walker Cup side, and we have to remember that despite all that's happened in his career he's just the same age as Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy, despite having seemingly been around for an age.
I think he still has a lot more to offer and a return to links golf may enable him to show it and land a touch in a market which looks wide open given the form concerns surrounding Lee Westwood, the injury carried by Ian Poulter and the poor Open record of Justin Rose.
The other two I like are Clarke and Graeme McDowell, but with the latter on-side in the outright preview I'll stick to just two selections.
Clarke has struggled with timing since shedding the best part of five stone in a new health kick, one that underlines how eager he is to continue competing despite having achieved a life's ambition in this tournament three years ago.
Granted, it's asking a lot for him to contend this week having failed to do so all year, but he was 21st at Muirfield on the back of four missed cuts last year whereas this time he caught the eye with some good stuff in Scotland a week ago.
At 100/1 in a place, he's worth a small punt having snared a share of fourth in this market last year.
Fans of biorhythms may want to give a second glance to Mark Wiebe in the Top Senior betting, given that his two PGA Tour wins came in July as did his victory in last year's Senior British Open.
However, Miguel Angel Jimenez looks banker material in that market and instead my final bets come in the first-round leader market, starting with Bradley Neil.
Neil is not yet a household name but by all accounts that will change soon, as the newly-crowned Amateur Champion is considered by many to be the hottest prospect Scottish golf has produced in many years.
We've seen so often that this major more than any other seems to offer a platform for amateurs to advertise their skills, and that's chiefly because they're tuned up for links golf as it plays such a big part in the amateur game in Europe.
Neil reckons he isn't without a chance this week while he looks very solid at 6/4 to be the Top Amateur, but my hope is that he can get off to a fast start at a whopping 300/1.
It is of course a fanciful play, but recent history shows that it can reap rewards. Just three years ago, Tom Lewis shared the first-round lead; in 2007 none other than Rory McIlroy was tied for third; in 2005 it was Eric Ramsay who shared third while a year earlier it was Stuart Wilson. All amateurs, and all up there from the off.
Given that Neil is out in the morning alongside two former Amateur Champions in Mikko Ilonen and Matteo Manassero and that you can get six places, I felt he was worth a very speculative punt to showcase his ability just as he did in the Alfred Dunhill Links.
The other one worth a small play is Matthew Baldwin at 200/1.
Simply put, Baldwin is a local lad playing some of the best golf of his career as he finds his feet on the European Tour, and he's already shown a propensity to start quickly.
So far this season he's led in Abu Dhabi and placed on three further occasions, while last year he led in Korea and placed in both Germany and Russia.
Go back to 2012 and he led in China on a links-style layout while he was also second at a windswept Nordea Masters after day one, and he was only a couple of shots outside the places after the first round of his sole Open start too.
Baldwin is a Birkdale member so he knows all about the challenge posed by Hoylake, and from the third-last group he might be able to take advantage of the evening conditions and post something in the 60s.